NOT UP TO THE JOB

Print More

Welfare reform was supposed to help poor people get off the public rolls and into private-sector jobs. But several new reports make it clear that the jobs juggernaut is faltering in New York, where there aren’t enough of the right kind of jobs–or enough efforts to help people off welfare and into work.

A report conducted by researchers from the Milken Institute and the Urban Institute looks at the 75 most populous counties in the U.S. to see how welfare recipients’ literacy levels match up with available jobs. Their findings show there’s a serious gap nationwide, since welfare recipients tend to have relatively low literacy. Across the country, there’s a low-skill jobs shortfall of about 6 percent, but in New York City the problem is twice as bad. Their figures indicate that the city would need another 74,000 low-skill positions to employ everyone currently on welfare.

But New York State has spent very little of the federal welfare-to-work cash earmarked to help these people get jobs and seems uninterested in systematic evaluation of how its current welfare programs are working. Since the beginning of 1998, the feds have promised $96 million to New York State in order to help the lowest-skilled welfare recipients find jobs–but according to a recent analysis conducted by the Associated Press, the state has spent only $1.2 million of the kitty so far, signing up a mere 465 participants to job-seeking programs.

And a report released last week by State Comptroller H. Carl McCall points out that although New York State’s welfare reform efforts are now two-and-a-half years old, they’ve never been evaluated. Nobody has attempted to find out how the 650,000 people that have moved off the rolls are faring, or tried to determine how they succeeded.

Although 17 other states have conducted serious analyses of their welfare reform efforts, the city’s one attempt at evaluation reached only 126 people and was statistically shaky. The state legislature did appropriate $300,000 a few years ago to carry out a comprehensive evaluation, but McCall’s auditors say the state’s current plans are inadequate.